Situated in the idyllic black and white North Herefordshire village of Dilwyn – just over 10 miles from Titley – Boycefield Farm is home to the Lewis family, who have farmed in Herefordshire for over 200 years. Their 350-acre mixed farm is comprised of permanent pasture, flood and wildflower meadows, arable fields, and woodland. It is farmed by Jim, his wife Cin, and their son Billy.
The farm is going on an exciting journey into regenerative agriculture. Their herd of pedigree Hereford cattle and flock of Cheviot breeding ewes are exclusively fed on forage: their own pasture, straw, and silage.
This method of farming solely relies on the most sustainable input of them all: natural sunlight.
The reason for our visit was to meet the 100% pasture fed lambs earmarked for us and understand the family’s vision for a more sustainable future.
Sheep are ruminant animals designed to eat forage: their stomachs have evolved over millions of years to extract maximum nutrition from it. A diet that is high in grain or soy puts a strain on their digestive systems and can cause metabolic disorders. Ruminants are happier, healthier, and tastier when eating their natural diet.
The team at Boycefield have diversified the nutrients in their animals’ diets by planting a range of herbs and grasses into their meadows, including chicory, white clover, yarrow, sorrel, and plantain.
As well as making for healthier animals, meadows full of a variety of plants have an increased surface area of leaves exposed to the sun. These leaves are like millions of tiny solar panels: turbocharging photosynthesis and ensuring plants are constantly transferring carbon dioxide from the air to the soil.
Healthy animals produce healthy meat. Purely grass-fed lamb contains at least 25% more omega-3 than conventionally fed lamb and is rich in vital minerals like zinc and selenium.
Furthermore, the foraging process allows animals to grow naturally. This has been shown to reduce lamb’s total fat content by more than 10% and results in almost half of their fat coming from oleic acid, which is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
A combination of these factors gives the meat a more gamey and intense flavour – it is simply in another league to conventionally fed lamb.
The Lewis’s approach also has huge environmental benefits. They aim to graze their animals in a way that emulates the wild herbivores of the African Savanna and the great plains of America. Here animals graze an area for a short time before being disturbed by predators or moving in search of water.
It is short duration, high impact grazing. Using electric fences and small fields, the family ‘mob graze’ their livestock. Animals eat half of the grass, and the remainder is left to be trampled into the ground. This trampled material helps build organic matter and feeds a range of organisms, such as earthworms who make their homes in the soil.
After a patch of field has been grazed, the animals are moved and the field is rested for between 30-60 days. This enables grass to regrow and plants in the pasture to flower, providing pollen and nectar for insects and bees who play a vital role in our ecosystem. This approach has allowed the family to reduce, in some places completely eliminate, the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides.
But, most importantly, rearing livestock in this way on their natural diet of grass and herbs can cause a net reduction in atmospheric carbon – offsetting and absorbing the methane they release.
Although we discussed this in our previous blog on Cabalva farm, it really is worth repeating.
This is all about soil and its wonderful capacity to absorb carbon. When grasses photosynthesise and absorb carbon dioxide, they utilise it in a symbiotic relationship with the soil. They release liquid carbon from their roots to feed the plethora of microbes in healthy soil, in return for the vital nutrients they need to grow. These microbes convert this carbon, along with organic matter from plant material trodden in by the animals, into a hugely stable carbon compound called humus.
This process is known as carbon sequestration.
Sequestered carbon can be stored in the soil for hundreds of years, and acts as a building block for further soil growth. This means that providing fields are not disturbed soil can be continually produced, and carbon continually absorbed.
On the arable side of their farm, in favour of the traditional method of ploughing, the Lewis’s are beginning to adopt methods such as direct drilling. This ensures the soil structure is not disturbed and that organic matter and nutrients are retained.
As well as nurturing healthy, happy animals, farming regeneratively creates beautiful surroundings. The fields at Boycefield are incredibly vibrant and brought to life by colourful wildflowers, deep green grass, and ancient trees. Surrounded by bountiful hedgerows, the farm provides an ecosystem for a plethora of important insects, birds, and mammals.
As well as food producers, farmers are custodians of our much-loved landscape. We’ve always found that those who take the latter seriously, are almost always the best at the former. At Boycefield farm, this is certainly the case.
We’ve purchased some whole lambs from Boycefield and in a nose to tail approach will be showcasing the entire animal on our menu over the next few weeks. This means food miles per portion will be incredibly low and there will be next to no wastage.
If you’d like more information about Boycefield Farm, follow them on Twitter @BoyceFieldFarm – their pictures and videos will be sure to make you smile!
Smiling Tree Farm – https://www.smilingtreefarm.com/blog/carbon-mooooves
World’s Healthiest Foods: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=117
The Dorset Meat Company: https://www.thedorsetmeatcompany.co.uk/2018/02/24/health-benefits-grass-fed/
Shepard Song Farm: https://www.shepherdsongfarm.com/grass-fed-grass-farming/health-benefits-grass-fed/